French oil giant Total posts 4th quarter loss and slashes value of Canadian, US oil fields



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PARIS — French energy producer Total wrote down the value of oil and gas fields in Canada and the United States and said it would slash investment after the collapse in market prices led to a net loss of $5.66 billion for the fourth quarter.

Total SA said Thursday its earnings were weighed down by $6.5 billion in charges, mainly against the value of oil sands in Canada and unconventional gas fields in the United States.

Overall, its oil and gas production slid 2 percent to 2.23 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter.

After falling nearly 60 percent from a peak last June, the price of oil bounced back more than 20 percent in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the price of oil fell $1.18 to $48.84 a barrel in New York.

Total followed European peers BP and Royal Dutch Shell in announcing sharp spending cuts in response to falling oil prices. Total will lower investments more than 10 percent to between $23 billion and $24 billion this year, and will also cut its exploration budget by about 30 percent to $1.9 billion. It also raised its forecast for operating cost cuts to $1.2 billion, well above the $800 million planned previously.

Last year, Total and its partners shelved indefinitely the $11 billion Joslyn north oil sands mine in Alberta, Canada, saying its costs didn't support the investment. The company also took a $2.1 billion charge to write down the value of its shale gas development in Ohio.

This week, the International Energy Agency forecast a "relatively swift" recovery in oil prices but said it doesn't expect the price of a barrel to come close to returning to the highs of over $100 seen in recent years.

Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne, who took over last October after the death in an aviation accident of former CEO Christophe de Margerie, said in a statement that Total is focused on generating cash flow and reducing its break-even point.

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